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  • Writer's pictureMerdeka Secretariat

WEST PAPUA AND THE NEW PRESIDENT OF INDONESIA: Not much chance for a change; the violence continues

This article is originally written and published by Land is Life last March 29, 2024. Land is Life is an international organization directly supporting grassroots Indigenous communities, organizations and leaders globally since 1992. It has a strong and expansive work in supporting indigenous West Papuans for years.

West Papua has been in dispute for decades, even before formal Indonesian independence from Holland in 1961. At the time, the Dutch were unwilling to include West Papua as part of the new Indonesian state, and only did so under pressure from the U.S., which was keen to avoid Soviet influence in the area. Now, more than sixty years later, the Indonesians seem as determined as the Colonial Dutch to hang on to what they’ve got, and continue to use. violence, and militarization to repress the desire of West Papua’s Indigenous Peoples to be self-determined.

According to The Chairman of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI), Julius Ibrani, the data collected by the organization indicates that the conflict in West Papua is both physical and racial, and aimed at silencing the Indigenous Peoples and their claims of human rights abuses.

Papuan culture has also been severely affected by a decades-long major transmigration campaign initiated by the authorities in Jakarta. Around one million people from towns across Indonesia have been moved into ‘transmigration’ camps, further diluting the original Indigenous population.

Papua’s numerous Indigenous Peoples are also ethnically distinct from the majority of the Indonesian population, and also predominantly Christian rather than Muslim, factors that almost certainly increase hostility towards them.

The Indonesia Presidential elections were held on the 14th of February, and on the 22nd of March, the country’s electoral commission confirmed Prabowo Subianto, the present Minister of Defence, as winner with 58.6% of the vote, thus avoiding a second round of voting.

There are still legal hurdles to overcome, but it seems almost certain that Prabowo, the subject of Human Rights accusations when he formed part of the bloody dictatorial regime of General Suharto (1968 –1998), will eventually head a changing of the guard. However, for the many Indigenous Peoples of West Papua, formerly known as Irian Jaya, things seem unlikely to change no matter who ends up in the Presidential Palace. The violences goes on.

Land is Life calls on president-elect Prabowo Subianto to end the violence in West Papua, to enter into a legitimate peace process, and to respect the rights of the Indigenous Peoples whose traditional territory it is. In accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP): the Indigenous Peoples of Papua have the right to self-determination and have the right to “own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership”. Suppression of those rights and physical repression will only lead to further violence.


When the Colonial Dutch government recognized the independence of the Republic of Indonesia in 1949, West Papua did not form part of it; the Dutch refused to hand it over, most likely because of its mineral resources. The Dutch government consequently began preparing West Papua for independence throughout the 1950s, and in late 1961 West Papua declared itself a sovereign state.

Independence was brief however, and Papuans were not consulted when, under pressure from the United States, the New York Agreement was signed in 1962 between the Indonesian and Dutch governments. The arrangement first placed West Papua under the control of the United Nations, and then, one year later, transferred it to the new Indonesian state, while guaranteeing the right to self-determination of its Peoples.

The decision was arbitrary and provoked a great deal of resistance, which in turn was brutally repressed by the Indonesian military. Thousands were imprisoned and killed between 1961 and 1969 when a plebiscite was held on independence from Indonesia: sponsored by the UN, but carried out under Indonesian supervision. Of a population of one million, only one thousand Papuans were allowed to vote, and in a context of threats of violence the result was ‘unanimous’: West Papua was to remain part of Indonesia.

Despite International condemnation and protests by the Papuans, and condemnation of the vote in the international media, the UN sanctioned the result. Indigenous Peoples rejected the plebiscite and have frequently called for Papuan independence with a new plebiscite, but more than sixty years after the original ‘vote’, the Papuans are still fighting for independence.

Since the formal occupation of West Papua by Indonesia in 1963, an estimated 500,000 Papuans have been killed by Indonesian security personnel; a report published in 2023 by The Guardian contained detailed consistent reports of torture and murder of civilians, including children, by military officials.#


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